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May 29, 2019

RMSC to host book launch with Martha Matilda Harper biographer Jane Plitt on June 19

ROCHESTER, NY—Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) is pleased to host a book launch and reception to celebrate the release of Jane Plitt’s Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream: How One Woman Changed the Face of Modern Business. This new paperback edition tells the story of how 19th-century inventor, immigrant, and entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper created the first retail franchise network from Rochester, N.Y.—a new business model that encouraged other women to own businesses and enrich themselves—and contains the 1940 directory of more than 400 Harper shops, enabling the curious to discover shop locations, especially in the Rochester region.

The book launch and reception will be held Wednesday, June 19, 2019 from 5:30–7:30pm. Sponsored by Canandaigua National Bank & Trust, this event is free and open to the public, however pre-registration is requested at 585.697.1942. Event attendees will also be able to explore items that once belonged to Harper and her business, including Harper’s shampoo chair prototype and tonic. The artifacts are among RMSC's 1.2 million permanent collection items. 

“Jane Plitt has given life to a story that might have remained hidden in time without her,” said RMSC President & CEO, Hillary Olson. “Martha Matilda Harper’s life is a story of immigration, a story of empowerment, and a story of an American dream come true through women supporting women. Martha’s innovation, leadership, natural marketing savvy, and new business model created an army of women entrepreneurs in a time when few would have thought it possible. Jane’s thorough research and thoughtful writing brings Martha’s truly amazing story to life! We are proud for the Rochester Museum and Science Center to be the repository and stewards of the Martha Matilda Harper archives.”

MARTHA MATILDA HARPER was bound out into servitude at the age of seven in Ontario, Canada, saving enough money over 25 years to move to Rochester in 1882. Six years later, Harper opened Rochester’s first beauty salon for women in the Powers Building, using both an organic hair tonic formula she was bequeathed by her last Canadian employer and her own mane of luxuriously long hair to advertise the shop. That tonic, and the method by which it was used—called the Harper Method—led Harper to create modern retail franchising with the help of Bertha Palmer of Chicago and Susan B. Anthony of Rochester. Harper also invented the first reclining shampoo chair and cutout sink. The first 100 franchised Harper Hair Parlors went to poor women, allowing them to become economically independent. At the height of its success Harper’s company had 500 franchises and produced a full line of hair and beauty products; when she died in 1950, more than 350 shops were still operating. Harper Method customers included Susan B. Anthony, Woodrow Wilson, British royalty, George Bernard Shaw, Grace Coolidge, and Joe Kennedy and his family.

Harper was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003 and the American Business Hall of Fame in 2014 for her achievements in business, and for helping other servants live the American dream by hiring them as staff and allowing them to become franchisees.

JANE PLITT is an author, entrepreneur, and speaker who ran a thriving Rochester business consulting practice until she became enthralled with the story of Martha Matilda Harper and spent six years crisscrossing the United States and Canada to piece the story together. Without the warm welcome of former Harperites and relatives, and their storage of Harper records and memorabilia, the Harper story could not have been written. Now three books about Harper exist: Martha’s Magical Hair for the very young, Martha the Hairpreneur for young adults, and Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream for serious biography readers. Plitt has been an advocate for small business, women, and social justice and was named the 1987 Small Businessperson of the Year by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. She was chosen by SAVVY magazine as one of 14 outstanding women in New York State and by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a Small Business Advocate. She has authored articles and lectured internationally on creative marketing, economic development, social entrepreneurship, and women’s rights. Plitt is a graduate of Cornell University.

For additional information, contact Mare Millow, Marketing Communications Manager, RMSC, 585.697.1944, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) includes the Science Museum, Strasenburgh Planetarium and Cumming Nature Center. Offering experiences at the Museum with more than 200 interactive exhibits, Planetarium with a 65-foot dome and Nature Center on 900 acres, the RMSC stimulates community interest in exploration. In addition, the more than 1.2 million RMSC collection items tell the story of Rochester’s past and present, including its rich history of innovation and invention. RMSC receives major funding from Monroe County, where it is one of the top three most visited attractions serving children and families. For more information about RMSC, visit RMSC.org. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.


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